African lions won an important victory in late October in the fight against the perils that threaten the species with declining populations, led by Born Free, long a leader in lion welfare and conservation efforts. After receiving a petition sponsored by Born Free USA and several other wildlife protection groups, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) submitted a proposal requesting threatened status for the African lions under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Born Free CEO Adam M. Roberts recently spoke with the Guardian Liberty Voice in an exclusive interview regarding the lions’ plight and the implications of the protective efforts for the future of the species.
GLV: What has Born Free’s contribution to the effort to achieve the protection of “threatened” endangered species designation for these lions been?
AMR: “Aside from being a lead author on the petition, Born Free is working on the ground in Africa to protect lions through anti-poaching programs in Kenya, and an ambitious and effective lion boma building project, where corrals are built to enable livestock to be shut in at night and kept away from predating lions. This has significantly reduced the number of cows killed by lions and therefore the need to poison lions in retaliation.”
GLV: Can you explain what it means that addition to the threatened list has been “proposed” in terms of the entire process of achieving protection for the African lions?
AMR: “After waiting 3 years from our original petition submission, the Fish and Wildlife Service has now issued a proposed rule to list the lion as ‘threatened’ with a special 4d rule included that places additional restrictions on lion trade.”
GLV: Are there any threats besides the trophy hunting that have contributed to their decline?
AMR: “Yes. Lions are at significant risk from trophy hunting, especially from American trophy hunters who take more than half of the slaughtered lions every year. But they are also at risk from disease, habitat decline, loss of prey, bush meat trade, and retaliatory killings including by poisoning from farmers whose livestock has been killed by lions.”
GLV: Does the proposal give them any interim protection while a decision is being made?
AMR: “No. Until the final rule is published, the status quo remains.”
GLV: How long and what steps remain to make a final decision?
AMR: There will be a 90-day comment period, ending at the end of January, and then soon thereafter we expect the decision to be finalized.”
GLV: What would your ideal outcome or solution look like?
AMR: “Ideally, we wanted an ‘endangered’ listing, but having a ‘threatened’ listing with this special rule that sets a high standard for any lion imports — notably that lion specimens can only enter the country if they are from nations certified to have a robust management program for the species — is, I think, a significant win for the species. It will most assuredly enable lion populations in west and central Africa to be protected from the scourge of trophy hunting.”
GLV: Are there any measures the public can take to help achieve your goals in the protection of the African lions?
AMR: “Any concerned and compassionate citizen can sign up for Born Free’s action alerts on our website and receive information on how to write to the Fish and Wildlife Service in support of the ESA listing and other actions to save lions and other imperiled species before it’s too late.”
Jeff Flocken, North American Regional Director for the International Welfare Fund, one of Born Free’s partners in petitioning FWS to end the peril that the African lions face, asserts that failing to act to stop trophy hunting amounts to “kicking an animal while it’s already down,” and thanks the U.S. government for recognizing the problem. Born Free’s press release indicates that the African lion population has dropped over 50 percent in the last 30 years with an estimated current population of less than 32,000. CEO Roberts vows that Born Free will remain on the alert to protect the African lions against the ravages of the lion trade and other dangers and ensure that the government’s conservation efforts do not go to waste because the lion population cannot afford a misstep or error.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Adam M. Roberts: Personal Interview
Born Free Press Release, Oct. 27, 2014
Image provided by Angela White, taken in Swaziland, 2012